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*Unedited and subject to change.
copyright by Jewelz Baxter

Family by Christmas

Chapter One

Emerson Owens had just finished his two-week hitch on an oil rig in the center of the Gulf of Mexico. If he remained on the highway, he’d be home in a little over three hours. And that was accounting for slow traffic due to the storm rolling up the state. Although he was eager to be home, he veered onto the single exit ramp for the small town where his brother, Denver, and his family lived. He never passed through here without stopping for a visit.

Heavy drops peppered his windshield as he meandered through the neighborhood streets. Windows popped through the heavy downpour with shadowed lights giving the illusion of an early night fall. He pulled into a driveway inching as close to the carport as he could. Without hesitation, he jumped from his truck and ran through the rain and between a van and truck to the door. He shook off the excess water that had not immediately soaked into his clothes and ran his hand through his dark hair slicking it back from his face before rapping on the door. His sister-in-law, Trish, would have his hide if he walked in dripping water across her floor. Squeals of excitement radiated from inside, and he pounded louder before stepping back to the side.

The door flew open, but he remained still, his back pressed against the wall.

“Where is he?  asked Shane, Denver’s oldest.

“I don't know,” he heard his brother's voice say. “Girls what do you think?”

Emerson jumped into the doorway growling. “Arg!”

Both girls ran screaming and laughing.

Emerson stepped in and pushed the door closed behind him. He turned and scrambled to catch a towel as it hit him in the chest. “Thanks.”

“Dry off,” Trish said as she stood and walked toward the kitchen. “You missed supper, but I saved you a plate.”

“Sorry about that. Weather delayed us getting back in.” He paused to greet each child with a hug before following her.

“You know there are severe weather warnings out for tonight. Even worse towards your house,” she informed him as she approached the table with his plate of food.

Emerson pulled back a chair and sat next to his brother.

“Why don't you stay here tonight? Head home in the morning,” Denver offered.

Emerson nodded. “May do that.”

“I see no reason for you to hurry home in this stuff,” his brother reasoned.

Trish now set across from him sipping on a glass of sweet tea. “Maybe he's ready to get home to gawk at his neighbor.”

“Oh, there is that,” Denver slapped Emerson’s back.

Emerson shook his head. “I don't gawk,” he said then scooped up another bite.

“When are you gonna step up and ask her out?” Denver wanted to know.

Emerson’s face twisted as he forced down a bit to answer. “Now why would I do that?”

“Why not?” Trish asked.

“Because I don't relish the idea of being turned down. That's why not.”

“You ask out girls all the time,” she reminded him.

“I ask out easy girls for a good time. She's different.”

Denver leaned forward onto his arms. “Really? How so?”

“I'm nowhere close to her league. She’s beautiful, educated, proper, confident, and I’m sure she's particular who she fu…”

“Language!” Trish snapped cutting him off.

“What?” Emerson looked around the room. “They're in the other room.”

“If you talk like that it's gonna slip in front of them one day,” she explained.

“Fine. I’m positive she's particular in who she allows to pleasure her. That better?”

She rolled her eyes. “So, you're saying that's all you want a woman for?”

“What else do I need one for?” he laughed.

“You're hopeless.”

“Why, thank you ma'am.”

Denver chuckled and threw his arm around his wife pulling her toward him. “You can't blame him that I snatched up the last perfect woman.”

“That,” Emerson waved his fork toward her. “Is correct. It's all his fault.”

“I stand corrected. Both of you are impossible.” Trish pushed to her feet. “Get all the BS out of your system before you let it slip in front of the kids.”

Emerson chuckled as she walked away. “You know, if there was a guarantee that life would be as outstanding as you make it look, I may not be opposed to a serious relationship.”

“It's all what you make of it, little brother. Even with the right woman, there's days you question your sanity. But it's all worth the emotional struggles and blessings that tangle together to make you look forward to each new day.”

***

At the same time two hundred and sixty-four miles north, Naomi West stood at her living room window. She knew it was not a safe place to be, but she just couldn't help herself. The storm had already knocked out electricity and the rain was unrelenting. The wind roared as it tossed pinecones, leaves, and other debris past her window. The sky lit up and spotlighted trees bowing under the pressure of the spring storm.

Night had fallen earlier than usual leaving her staring through a hazy darkness. Another bolt flashed across the sky rippling out like fireworks on the 4th of July. The few homes near hers came into view. The truck that was usually parked across the road was nowhere to be seen. It should have been there hours ago. Maybe he stopped somewhere to wait out the storm. Since he was never late arriving home from work. She sent up a prayer that nothing had happened to him and dropped her shoulder to the wall.

Squinting, she focused on a large object moving into her front yard. The sky flashed once more, and she recognized her glass top picnic table fall onto its side and shatter. She had closed the umbrella that stood in the center of the table. But that had not been enough to escape this storm. Wind must have found its way into the canvas structure and lifted it off the ground only to drop it yards away from where it normally sat.

She squeezed her eyes. Nothing she could do now. She would assess the damage in the morning. The drapes slid closed, and she made her way to bed.

 

***

If a clock was to chime an hour sounding in unison over the entire state, Naomi and Emerson were sliding under the covers at the same hour announcement. Each closing their eyes to a storm tapping a rhythm against their windowpanes. A massive storm that was brewing changes that would twist and tangle all of these lives in a way no one could have imagined.

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